Don Celestino is old and bitter and afraid, an impossible man. An anarchist who has been in exile from his native Spain for more than twenty years, he lives with his daughter in Paris, but in his mind he is still fighting the Spanish Civil War. He fulminates against the daily papers; he brags about his past exploits. He has become bigoted, self-important, and obsessed; a bully to his fellow exiles and a tyrant to his daughter, Pascualita.
Then a family member dies in Madrid and there is an inheritance to sort out. Pascualita wants to go to Spain, which is supposedly opening up in response to the 1960s, and Don Celestino feels he has no choice but to follow. He is full of dread and desire, foreseeing a heroic last confrontation with his enemies, but what he encounters instead is a new commercialized Spain that has no time for the past, much less for him. Or so it seems. Because the last act of Don Celestino’s dizzying personal drama will prove that though “there is nothing serious . . . , there is tragedy.”
An astonishing modern take on Don Quixote, Chaos and Night untangles the ties between politics and paranoia, self-loathing and self-pity, rage and remorse. It is the darkly funny final flowering of the art of Henry de Montherlant, a solitary and scarifying modern master whose work, admired by Graham Greene and Albert Camus, is sure to appeal to contemporary readers of Thomas Bernhard and Roberto Bolano.
Henry de Montherlant (1896–1972) was born and raised in Neuilly, outside of Paris. Montherlant’s father, who boasted of his connection to the aristocracy, was a rock-ribbed reactionary; his mother spent years in bed; both parents doted on their son. Expelled from high school for homosexual activity, Montherlant studied law briefly, enlisted in the army, and was wounded in World War I. His first novel, The Dream (1922), was a paean to the camaraderie of warriors, and several subsequent works were written in a similar vein. However, in The Bachelors (1934) Montherlant
discovered a new interest in the aberrations of human behavior and psychology, and developed his mature voice: sardonic, bemused, without hint of consolation. The Bachelors won the Grand Prix of the French Academy and was followed by four novels that were collected as The Girls (1936–39), one of Montherlant’s major achievements and an international best seller. During WorldWar II , Montherlant remained in occupied Paris and wrote scathingly in right-wing journals about the fallen Third Republic, leading to later charges of collaborationism. He also turned from
fiction to drama, rapidly making a name as one of France’s finest playwrights. In 1960, Montherlant was elected a member of the Academie Francaise. In 1972, after years of worsening health, he committed suicide.
Terence Kilmartin was literary editor of The Observer from 1951–1985. He translated several novels by Henry de Montherlant, including The Bachelors, The Girls, and The Boys, as well as works by Andre Malraux, Francoise Sagan, and others. Kilmartin’s revision of C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past was published in 1981. He died in 1991.
Gary Indiana is a critic and novelist. His most recent books are Utopia’s Debris: Selected Essays and The Shanghai Gesture, a novel to be published in 2009. From 1985–1988 he was senior art critic for The Village Voice, and has written for New York magazine, Artforum,
the London Review of Books, and other publications.